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Where Beauty Begins

Where Beauty Begins
~ by Timothy D. Willard

Stumbling upon the Deep Words of God

For thirty-six hours, I stared at the mist gathering in the valley and discussed the world and heaven with two close friends. It was midsummer. The Black Mountains of western North Carolina rise to the clouds. A spur of the Appalachian Range, they contain six of the Eastern United States’ highest peaks. Mount Mitchell gathers its summit at 6,684 feet — the highest of all. The Blacks range for fifteen miles and get their name from the dark fir and spruce trees that coat their heights. The boreal evergreens look black in winter as they contrast with the deciduous hardwoods upon the slopes.

Our cabin sat at 3,100 feet and jutted out, like a manmade promontory, into the steep river valley south of the spur. The first night, thunderstorms raged through the mountain basin, and we watched the ominous clouds gather overhead. They unleashed. The sounds of the storm took over. Lightning and rain and claps of thunder pelted and shook the cabin. Then, as quickly as it had gathered, the storm dispersed, vanishing over the ridge.

A cluster of stars peeked from behind the indigo veil and dripped their light into the valley that had just been ravished by the beauty of the summer storm. With the heat of the day gone, we lit the fire and laughed beneath the stars, writing haikus about the storm and trees and the smell of pine and whatever caught our fancy.

The next morning, we departed, filled up by camaraderie and joy. I let the joy guide me to a more scenic route home. Instead of barreling back to Charlotte on the highway, I wound my way to the Blue Ridge Parkway and drove toward the summit of Mount Mitchell. With the windows down and Gipsy Kings blaring in my speakers, I let my hand hang in the mountain air as the temperature cooled.

A thousand feet, then a thousand more; 85 degrees, then 75, then 65. The mountain air poured into my truck, sweet with mint and bergamot and pine and fir.

Wild bee balm lined the parkway with a crimson thread; their joyous red heads stood tall and confident, showing off their stunning glory. Beside them, the spindly rudbeckia beamed, their yellow petals a parade of color.

  • I drove with a permanent grin, as if I’d happened upon a secret meeting of angels who’d left a trail of heaven in their wake.

I could almost smell the celestial goodness in the air. The summit waited for me with its height and range and glory. Perhaps I’d find the angels and listen in on their meeting.

When I turned up the steep road, I heard distant thunder and found that for which my heart yearned: thunder-filled storm clouds marching toward the peak, while a great blue expanse spread out to the south: the meeting of the heavens.

  • I took in the view and thought how God greeted me with a billion joys, for that is all that can fit into the Black Mountains: countless trees, branches, leaves, flowers, clouds, deer, bear, bobcat, mist and storm, sky and sunshine, the intoxicating elements of it all working together. Yet my eyes could only drink in so much, leaving me wanting more.

“But Tim,” you say, “why didn’t you invite me on your mountain escapade? For I, too, long to see the joys of God on the mountaintops. This world of ours makes me want to stop everything and return to the remote places, if only to restore my sanity.”

“Ah, yes,” I reply. “I do apologize for the oversight. I only share this story to inspire you to head out on your own mountain escapade. When you ascend to the places of wonder, keep it in mind to let go of the world’s pace. If you’re really daring, sit and stare at a view for an uncomfortable amount of time. Let the sights and sounds bend in on you. I’m sure you, too, will find an angels’ meeting of your own.”

God Invites Us into His Beauty

The bounty of wonder you and I discover in this world is no accident.

  • God created the world with deep intention, care, and love. He created with an irresistible flair to draw us to Himself.

When the apostle Paul stood before the stoics at the Areopagus, he noted their deep religious beliefs, ignorant and blind as they were, and invited the philosophers to see the billions upon billions of joys.1 For the seeker, the one groping for God, he said, these joys reveal the invisible qualities of His eternal power and divinity. And yet the beauty of natural wonder is not sufficient for spiritual salvation. Beauty unconnected to God leads humans into pagan idolatry. God Himself says He will destroy all beauty not rooted in Him (Isaiah 28:1–4).2

For the disciple of Jesus, the one groping for deeper intimacy with God, the revelation of these joys — of God’s power and divine nature — remind of His unlimited grace and care. But even more than that, they remind one of the lover who leaves flowers on His beloved’s doorstep. The flowers signal His loyalty and tenderness, but they also impart something of His heart concerning His beloved. The flowers say, “You remind me of this bouquet — full of life, bursting with color, alive with fragrance, a bounty snatched from the mountains.” The bouquet is a symbol of Christian love.3

In the half-light of Heaven, blowing through the incandescent clouds descending upon Mount Mitchell, I discovered the meeting of angels. They told me the story of the light that came so long ago, before humans walked the earth, and how it filled the cosmos with wisdom. The angels reminded me of the ancient philosophy that used to rule the earth, the one that predated our modern materialism (that is, the belief that the world is composed only of matter and the supernatural does not exist, as opposed to the love of material possessions).

It was basic and true, not because it was simple, but because it was so deep, full of paradox and the spectacle of wonder. It was a knowledge — a Word — bound up in the Artist’s mind behind the flower that blows in the mountain air, whose bend and bob can give “thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”4

As I pondered this ancient philosophy from the angel’s story, I remembered that we journey through this world, stumbling upon the deep words of God at every turn, if only we have ears to hear them. Such a glorious paradox it was, that day at Mt. Mitchell, to hear the deep words of Heaven with my eyes and tastes their fragrance with my nose. They smell like bergamot, and behold, they are good.

1.See Acts 17:16–34. Keep in mind, Paul’s engagement with the philosophers at Athens was provoked by their idolatry. Paul was greatly stirred in his spirit because of their devotion to idols rather than the Creator God.
2.In the Old Testament, one of the seven-word groupings for beauty relates to the beauty and glory of nations. Nations that rise up and in pride claim their glory for themselves, forgetting God as their source, will face destruction. A prime example of this in the Scriptures is Sodom and Gomorrah.
3.I use Christian love here in a deliberate way to distinguish Christian love from pagan or secular love. Kierkegaard makes this same distinction in his Works of Love, chapter 11, “You Shall Love Your Neighbour.” See Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love (New York: HarperPerennial, 2009).
4.William Wordsworth, “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” in Poetical Works [of] Wordsworth; with Introductions and Notes (London: Oxford University Press 1969), 462.

Excerpted with permission from The Beauty Chasers by Timothy D. Willard, copyright Timothy Willard.

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Your Turn

Who's ready for a weekend in the mountains savoring the beauty of God in nature "sweet with mint and bergamot and pine and fir"? Are you longing for deeper intimacy with Jesus? Let's pray today that the Holy Spirit would guide us to see the billions upon billions of joys before us. Come share your thoughts! We want to hear from you about chasing beauty! ~ Devotionals Daily

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